Georgia Boy can't putt. Can't knock a marble in a manhole.
"Nobody hits it better than me, but I can't get it in the hole," Georgia Boy said. "I'd be on tour if I could putt. But I'm a painter so's I can make some money to hit my shots."
This was on the 11th tee at Langston Golf Course, next to the Anacostia, between the power plant and the high school. This is a hard part of town. You can make it here painting houses. Or you can make it selling dope and doing grand theft.
Jeffrey Winchester says you can go wrong in this part of town without trying. He's 17 and he thinks Langston saved his life. Guys like Georgia Boy did it.
"Arnold Palmer didn't hit it no better than me," said Georgia Boy, who looks to be about 50 years old until he whips out the driver and air mails the kids. "But Palmer could make them putts from here to that trash can." The trash can was 200 feet away.
Jeffrey Winchester says sweet ol' Georgia Boy is famous for being nervous about putting. But he says don't bite on that I-can't-putt-trash, because soon as you do you'll look up and Georgia Boy will be counting the cash you owe him.
"Georgia Boy can putt, he just don't want you to know it too soon," said Jeffrey Winchester.
Georgia Boy, Jeffrey Winchester and 141 other pros and amateurs will play today and Sunday in the 11th annual Lee Elder Celebrity Pro-Am Tournament at Langston. Elder and Lee Trevino, hustlers who made it big, will play an exhibition Sunday morning at 10 o'clock. For a bargain $6 ticket, you can walk down the fairways with these magicians. You wouldn't waste your time, either, watching the 36-hole tournament with a $10,000 first prize that has drawn a grand field of hustlers, touring pros, house painters and 17-years-olds who know this is better than jail.
Langston is 18 holes of scrubby fairways and tiny greens bumpier than Benning Road, which carries 30,000 cars within 20 feet of the first tee. It is a course you play in a hard part of town when you can't play anywhere else.Langston is 42 years old. Joe Louis played there. Lee Elder, scuffling out of Dallas, took the champ's money. Now Elder runs the place, has cleaned up the clubhouse, made the golf course as good as it can be.
It is heaven for Jeffrey Winchester.
He works there, for about $2 an hour, doing all the jobs. Sometimes he is behind the counter selling hamburgers. Sometimes he runs tractors mowing the grass. He sprays greens, rakes traps, repairs carts, sells golf balls. He has been doing this three years now, ever since he grew tall enough that they didn't chase him away.
"I want to know all about running a golf course, so if I get to college next year, I can always find a job somewhere," he said.
Jeffrey Winchester has a baby's soft and full face, eyes wide open, looking for a reason to smile. He knows his father, he says, but he doesn't remember him. His mother, Virginia, does cleaning and is taking typing lessons. She went to a neighborhood college. She has two daughters and five sons, Jeffrey being the youngest boy. He says one brother is at Livingstone College on a golf scholarship and the other three get jobs when they can find them.
"Working here is good, because it's entertaining," Winchester said. He played baseball for a couple years but gave it up because he didn't like team sports. The District cut out high school golf the year he arrived and practicing is done between jobs at Langston.
He sat in the Langston dining room, a bar at one end, the pro shop at the other. Wire protected the shop windows. A chain-link fence seven feet high stood guard around the clubhouse. This is a hard part of town.
"I figure," the kid said, "if I wasn't here, I'd be on the streets. I'd be here 24 hours a day if I could."
Winchester can play. Par or better at Langston. Not much of a course, but let the wind blow and it's like the British Open out there, a bump-and-run test of nerve-jangling unpredictability. Winchester has gone to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, North Carolina and New York, either as a caddy or a player. He picks up a few dollars from his buddies, but Georgia Boy and his buddies won't let the kid play for big money yet.
"We can't gamble with the men," Winchester said.
The men at Langston know how this part of town works. The men tell the kids to stay straight.
"A whole lot of my friends are in jail," Winchester said. "One of them played in this tournament two years ago. Grand theft or something like that. Before I started coming up here to Langston, I was kind of getting into smoking pot, drinking.
"Out here, they won't let you do that. They stay on you about it. They see you with guys smoking, they get on you. Out here, there's no danger. Out here, you're away from all those other guys who influence you to do bad things. Most guys who come out here are really bad.But they kinda straighten up. Guys like Georgia Boy, they get on you if you're bad."
Winchester has a buddy.
The buddy stole Winchester's golf clubs.
Sold them for cash to deal dope.
"I want out of all that," Winchester said.
Elder's tournament raises money to send kids to college. Rose Elder, the pro's wife and the tournament's director, says that after expenses of maybe $35,000 there will be $10,000 left for the Lee Elder College Scholarship Foundation. Because attendance has never been good -- even with Bob Hope and Gerald Ford in the field -- most of the money comes from a dozen sponsors.
"That's what I want to do, is go to college with Lee's scholarship," Jeffrey Winchester said.